This lesson is based on a 2012 exhibition, The Allure of Japan. It introduces both American and Japanese arts that are associated with the term, “Japonisme,” which is the West’s growing interest in the collecting of Japanese objects, and Western artists’ exploration of Japanese subject matter and styles.
With the arrival of the New England naval officer Commodore Matthew Perry and his "black ships" in Edo (Tokyo) Bay in 1853, and the 1854 signing of a historic treaty, Japan ended 250 years of isolationism. This arrival eventually caused enormous changes in Japan's political and social structure within 15 years, leading up to the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Americans brokered an agreement to initiate official diplomatic and commercial relations with Japan. Starting from the opening of trade between the countries, a fascination for all things Japanese swept the United States (and Europe) in the period around the turn of the 20th century. The arrival of Japanese goods and emissaries in America, which was once seen as impossible, sparked a wave of interest in Japan, which seemed to offer an exotic alternative to Western tradition.
Many Americans first came into contact with Japanese wares during their travels to Paris. Artists and collectors, especially Bostonians, traveled abroad on long voyages of discovery and learning by gathering Japanese objects, studying Japanese traditions, and integrating Japanese styles and techniques into their own work. By the 1870s, plenty of opportunities for introduction to Japan existed in the United States as well.
The 2012 exhibition, The Allure of Japan, celebrates this cultural moment with a rich display of rarely exhibted American prints, posters, watercolors, and decorative arts complemented by a selection from the Museum's renowned Japanese art collection. This Online Lesson also demonstrates the ways American artists responded to contact with Japan--from observation and emulation to the incorporation of Japanese motifs and styles in boldly original American images.
In exploring this lesson, students will:
- Learn about the varied artistic mediums used by both Japanese and American artists
- Explore Japan's international influences after the end of isolationism in 1854 and onward
- Think about Japan's growing role in international affairs since the Meiji Restoration in 1868
This discovery will require students to:
- Look closely at artworks and observe details
- Use prior knowledge in conjunction with observation
- Generate hypotheses based on observation and prior knowledge.
Using this resource:
- World History teachers and students will be intersted in what this lesson reveals about Japan's influence on American art and culture, as well as its growing role in the world
- Visual Art teachers and students will be interested in the techniques and designs of varying media in art, specifically woodblock printing
- U.S. History teachers and students will be interested in how the U.S. first came into contact with Japan and responded to Japanese traditions
For additional historical background and technical information surrounding this exhibition, visit the websites availalble under Related Resources.
The objects in this lesson are just a beginning. We encourage you to explore the Museum's online collection through this web source--or even better, to visit the Museum and walk through the physical galleries--to look for other objects that will provide further insights into this topic.